In reading other people’s blogs about chronic pain I have noticed I don’t say much about how I feel about mine. Then I realized that is because I find my chronic pain really boring. The words the dictionary uses to define boring include tedious, wearisome, dreary, monotonous, pointless, and mind-numbing, while near synonyms include debilitating, disheartening, demoralizing, discouraging, fatiguing, draining, enervating, and predictable. I think that gives the general idea. These are all things pain should not be.
Pain should be pertinent information provoked by concrete incidents and stimuli primarily from the external environment that tells you to change your behavior so that you will not be injured. In the case of broken bones and the like, pain serves to keep you still long enough to heal. Chronic pain does none of that. It is more of an unwelcome guest that won’t go away.
The other thing about feelings is that they are biochemical cocktails that have profound effects on the way our bodies function and how we feel physically as well as our emotions. Acupuncture breaks this physical/emotional feeling complex into five basic groups. There is also a life inhibiting expression (-) and a life-sustaining and affirming (+) expression of each group . If I put these groups in terms of western medicine this is what I get:
- Adrenaline and the like are related to feelings of anger-/action+
- Endorphins and the like are related to feelings of oblivion-/joy+
- Prostaglandins and the like are related to feelings of loneliness-/grief+
- Steroids and the like are related to feelings of fear-/desire+
- Oxytocin and the like are related to feelings of self pity-/security+
If I am angry at my circumstances, so wrapped up in myself that I am oblivious to my surroundings, and feel lonely, frightened, and sorry for myself I will feel physically bad and alienate those around me.
If I am focused on taking what action I can, finding joy in that action, grieving and releasing what I cannot do, fulfilling the desires that I can, and trusting in myself and the experiences the world brings to me, I will physically feel better and have more constructive interactions with more people.
Both patterns are positive feedback loops, meaning that they build on themselves. If I am cheerful and engaged in the world, I am more likely to feel better and have people around me. If I am isolated and sunk in negativity, I am more likely to feel physically worse and have less interaction with others. The exception, of course , is a dysfunctional narcissistic family like mine that is bound together by negativity and requires a scapegoat or designated patient. Then your environmental feedback gets really distorted because you handling your situation with grace threatens their status quo. In worst case scenarios there is a certain kind of sick satisfaction in precipitating your suffering. While reducing or eliminating contact helps, it is important to do your own inner house cleaning as well.
My point here is that the biochemical cocktail of emotions has a huge effect on my well-being. So it behooves me to be very conscious about how what I think I feel emotionally affects how I actually feel physically. Pragmatically that means I don’t do a whole lot of complaining because it makes me feel bad. I also have to keep in mind that if I wake up weeping with pain, it most likely means that my prostaglandin levels are elevated and my body as well as my emotions are inflamed and sensitive. I am wasting my time and energy if I search for a psychological cause for emotions that arise out of physical stresses and imbalances. I also risk training my body to stay in that state of reactive sensitivity. Since I really don’t want that, I need to address the physical situation first. Then I can take a look and see how the emotional and psychological issues are faring.
In general, it is really important to practice some kind of mental and emotional hygiene with chronic pain. I do not enjoy being around others who do a whole lot of complaining because that makes me feel worse than I need to. When I am struggling physically, I have to be utterly ruthless about the company I keep because other people’s negativity is so destructive to me.
On the pragmatic level of survival, people need to recognize that when I can’t pay my bills and my very limited energy is focused on scraping by, I REALLY don’t have the resources to socialize. I don’t know why it is so troubling to people to hear that what I (and any chronic pain person) truly needs is a warm place to sleep and food to eat. I suppose because it makes the situation much too real. A get-well card, a good book, and a box of Kleenex just aren’t relevant, and the accompanying expectations of of improvement are devastating.
I did find some advice that applies to chronic pain sufferers as well as introverts:
And here is some truly touching and great advice for men when the love of their life is living with chronic pain:
What I don’t want to ever hear again is:
- But you look so good
- Isn’t there something you can do about it
- I thought you would be better by now
If I look good it is because I am doing my damnedest to deal with an utterly hideous situation that will NEVER get ‘better’.
And yes, that is a mind-crusher. Most pain clinics do require some kind of psychological counseling, and one of my pain doctors has gone so far as to recommend every one he treats participate in family constellation work because chronic pain is so often so intertwined with family dysfunction. Family constellation work (click here) opens up a whole other realm of influences that really need their own post, so for now I will just say that improvement if not healing can come from bringing multi-generational family dynamics up into conscious awareness and having them witnessed by others.